MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
Although Tommy West – assistant program manager for engineering, Program Manager Engineering Systems, at Marine Corps Systems Command – spends his days helping equip Leathernecks with the world’s most lethal gear, he likes to joke that he was a Ranger long before coming to work for the Corps.
“A Texas Ranger, that is,” West likes to quip through a grin.
Towering at 6’5”, there’s no question that West was born to be a pitcher. Following a successful high school career, he was recruited to play baseball at Virginia’s Old Dominion University – ODU -- where he would come to be known as “one of the most consistent pitchers in school history,” graduating with a 31-7 record. As a senior in 1985, West even set a school record by registering a 15-2 record – ultimately leading his team to win the Sun Belt Conference title and appear in the finals of the College World Series. That same year, West was named “Player of the Year” in Virginia.
West’s 15 consecutive wins earned him a place in ODU’s Athletic Hall of Fame and propelled him to a No. 4 national ranking in 1985.
The Texas Rangers drafted West in the 1985 MLB June amateur draft after he graduated from ODU. Although he could have been drafted much earlier, the All-Star turned engineer recalls refusing to leave university without first completing his engineering degree.
“A lot of baseball players are signed out of high school and college and have trouble making a living later on in life. I wanted something to fall back on, so I made sure my contract reflected that. Although I was young and had limited negotiation skills, by the end of it, the Rangers let me finish school and even paid for it,” he recalled with a smile.
West went on to play in the Texas Ranger organization for four years – sharing the field with legends like Sammy Sosa, Dean Palmer and, Kenny Rogers -- and although he never made it to the major leagues, he believes his time as a professional baseball player taught him a few invaluable life lessons.
“It was always a dream to play in the major leagues, but the lessons I learned on the field prepared me for life at MARCORSYSCOM,” West said. “Just like Marines train like they fight, baseball players train like they play. My college coach would always say, ‘practice doesn’t make you perfect; perfect practice makes you perfect,’ and I think the Marines operate under a similar framework.”
After leaving the Rangers, West put his engineering degree to good use -- working on projects ranging from installing audiovisual systems in the Senate for CNN News to helping engineer some of the world’s most lethal gear for the Defense Department as a self-proclaimed “beltway bandit.”
He first came to work for MARCORSYSCOM at Marine Corps Base Quantico as a contractor, serving as lead systems engineer for the Joint Assault Bridge project. He joined the command as a civilian general engineer in 2009 and has since led engineering efforts for a variety of projects.
“Tommy’s experience as a baseball player has shone through across his work at PM Engineer Systems. He has commitment, drive and is truly a team player,” said Daniel Fitzgerald, program manager for Engineer Systems. “His ability to work with various team members, personnel and members of other branches is a direct reflection of his positive attitude and commitment to the team.”
Looking back on his distinguished career, however, West admits feeling most proud of his work developing the Marine Corps’ Assault Breacher Vehicle – or ABV – a vehicle designed to clear pathways through minefields, creating safe lanes for other vehicles.
“The Assault Breacher Vehicle is the premiere breaching tool in the Marine Corps, and there is no other tool like it,” said West. “It can carry two Linear Demolition Charges -- commonly referred to as the line charge -- on the back with over a thousand pounds of C4 explosives in each of the charges. A rocket is attached to each line charge to propel the charge, which is critical when clearing a path through mine fields.”
“At the end of the day, this thing saves lives,” he added.
Although West concedes that he had no exposure to the military before working for the Corps – “I was never even a Boy Scout,” he joked – he feels spending time in the field with Marines has inspired him to always give his best for the warfighter.
“The first time I was out in the field with Marines was during a weeklong exercise in Camp Pendleton,” West recalls. “We were out there supporting ABV efforts, but I ended up learning so much from the Marines I had the privilege of being in the field with. I learned to see things from their perspective, and they went home with a better understanding of the acquisitions process.”
But West no longer dreams of pitching the perfect game for the Rangers; instead, he says he’d rather spend time with his wife of 30 years, two daughters and son. But after two successful careers – as a professional baseball player and as an engineer – he readily admits that one of his most cherished memories exists thanks to the Corps.
“If you’ve seen ‘A Field of Dreams,’ you’ll remember the scene where the main character is able to play a game of catch with his long-deceased father,” West noted. “Recently, I was part of a team sent to Iowa to conduct a systems engineering technical review of a company we’re working with. Because the site was close to the stadium where the movie was filmed, I immediately emailed the other engineer and the master sergeant and told them, ‘Bring your gloves; I’m pitching to one of you.’”
Remembering how he was able to play a game of catch with a Marine Corps master sergeant while wearing his father’s glove, West recalled, “I never made it to the big leagues, but thanks to the Marine Corps, I sure made it to the Field of Dreams.”